Tania Ganassini may be a vegetarian chef, but that doesn’t mean she can’t work with meat proteins like the best of them. She did, after all, previously work at restaurants like Canoe in Toronto and at Arco Antico in Rome. These days though, the chef runs her own shop with Staff Meal Niagara.

“Cooking is my entry point to spreading the message of conscious and compassionate consumption, because our food choices impact the welfare of the environment, ourselves, and all other inhabitants of this planet,” she says.

Living in wine country comes with many perks, including an emerging culinary scene and many vegetarian options. Here Tania picks her Top 5 ultimate destinations when she’s in need of a hearty veggies-first snack.

MA Chinese

Enjoy the comfort of mom’s home cooking through a technical chef’s eyes. That’s the philosophy behind this traditional-meets-modern Chinese spot. The menu is comprised of a wide-range of ingredients, flavours and techniques, but Tania is particularly fond of the dumplings with mushrooms and snow pea shoots.

“Their dim sum is so spot-on every single time,” she says. “I eat there once a week, easily.”

 

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Pie’Za

“They are the real deal, with certified VPN pizza,” Tania says of this authentic, handcrafted pizza joint in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Each pie is constructed using imported non-GMO Napoli flour, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and local, fresh mozzarella.

The restaurant does a menu of bianche pizzas as well, but all ‘zas are finished with a selection of gourmet toppings that are further glorified through the custom, imported Napoli oven, which burns hard wood, weighs 5,000 pounds, and cooks a pie at 750 degrees F in less than two minutes.

“The California Dreamin’ is salty and dreamy and perfect,” raves Tania. “I often add arugula to it, because I’m obsessed with leaves like the hippy that I am.”

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Masaki Sushi

There are plenty of sushi joints out there, so how does a chef weed out the good from the bad? It all comes down to the details. This Niagara-On-The-Lake spot certainly has that rolled up, from its serene setting and the beautiful plating to the dishes themselves.

“They ferment their own miso and soy sauce in house,” says Tania. “I love the delicacy of the miso soup, which is usually an afterthought at many sushi restaurants in Ontario.”

 

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Brushfire Smoke at Oast House Brewery

The menu at this barbecue joint is a mix of southern flair and Asian flavours, which culminates in some truly tasty bites. The menu stems from the brain of former Toronto chef John Vetere, who when he first saw the space accompanying Oast House Brewers, knew he had to cook there.

Brushfire Smoke is certainly known for its meaty options, but the spot also happens to have one of Tania’s favourite vegetarian sandwiches: the Triple Decker Smoked Collard Green Reuben.

“It might be my favourite sandwich of all time,” she says. “It’s on local sourdough, is vegetarian, and is enjoyed by even the most devout meat-lovers because of its smoky umami-ness.”

Yellow Pear Kitchen

Reservations are highly recommended at this brunch spot, although hungry customers can also follow the joint’s food truck or order its catering as well. Their menus are constantly changing to keep up with the seasons and locally available produce, which makes them a hit with locals and tourists alike.

“I always opt for their vegetarian options, they’re consistently really delicious and perfectly seasoned,” says Tania.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada.